Bipolar Disorder Causes

2013 Bipolar Update

While the causes are not completely understood, it appears that certain people can inherit a predisposition to Bipolar disorder. However, not everyone with this inherited vulnerability develops the illness which suggests that genes may not be the only cause. Some brain imaging studies show actual physical changes in the brains of Bipolar disorder sufferers although researchers are unsure whether the changes are the cause or the result of Bipolar disorder. Other research shows an indication of neurotransmitter imbalances; abnormal thyroid function; circadian rhythm disturbances and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Although there are others, the most common types of bipolar conditions are bipolar I and bipolar II. An individual with a bipolar I disorder has the same characteristics as a manic depressant, and in most cases are diagnosed as such. These people experience severe and at times very long lasting episodes which may involve psychotic occurrences. A person with a bipolar II disorder has much less severe symptoms that last only few days or possibly only a few hours. There are also no psychotic experiences in the Bipolar II.

External environmental and psychological factors are also believed to be instrumental in the development of Bipolar disorder and these external factors are known as ‘triggers’. They can set off a new episode of mania or depression or make an existing episode worse. However, not all Bipolar disorder episodes have an obvious trigger and can be the result of ongoing situations or habits.

Stressful events can trigger bipolar disorder in someone with a genetic vulnerability. These events usually involve drastic or sudden changes which can be either good or bad such as getting married or losing a loved one. Substance abuse, while in itself does not cause Bipolar disorder, can trigger an episode or worsen the course of the disease. Drugs such as cocaine; ecstasy and amphetamines can bring on a bout of mania, while alcohol and tranquilizers can trigger an episode of depression.

Certain medications, in particular anti-depressants can cause rapid cycling between mood states. Other drugs that can trigger mania include over-the-counter cold medicine; appetite suppressants; caffeine; corticosteroids and thyroid medication.

Occurrences of mania and depression often follow a seasonal pattern with manic episodes more common in the fall, winter and spring.

Loss of sleep, even if you are only skipping a few hours of rest, can bring on an episode of mania. Studies have also indicated that viruses such as herpes simplex which causes cold sores may be a risk factor for bipolar disorder with one study suggesting that women suffering from herpes simplex infection while pregnant may have children with a greater risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Studies into Bipolar disorder are ongoing but the easiest way to sum up all of the above is that, according to today’s thinking, a person can possibly be born with the possibility of developing Bipolar disorder and the symptoms are then triggered by environmental stresses within that person’s life.

Obviously scientist could refine their theory tomorrow but what is certain is that they will not give up looking for answers.